Talking Movies

January 9, 2014

Delivery Man

Vince Vaughn stars in a rapid, identikit American remake of a hit Canadian film by its original writer/director Ken Scott.

DELIVERY MAN

David Wozniak (Vince Vaughn) is an incompetent meat delivery man for the family business. He’s in disgrace with his father and brothers for predictably messing up their basketball team photo-shoot, $80,000 in debt to scary people, planning to grow marijuana in his apartment to raise money, and his estranged NYPD cop girlfriend Emma (Cobie Smulders) has just announced she’s pregnant and doesn’t want him involved. Into this mess of a life intrude his 533 biological children… A lapse in judgement at a sperm bank has seen his 693 samples prove remarkably fertile and now 142 of these children are suing to find out just who is their father. His best friend house-husband Brett (Chris Pratt) renews his licence to fight for David’s right to anonymity, but David starts to act as guardian angel to progeny including troubled Kristen (Britt Robertson)…

Delivery Man is being misleadingly sold as a comedic romp. There are some laugh-out loud moments punctuated throughout the film, but in truth it’s a warm dramedy rather than a comedy. Simon Delaney makes no impact as David’s acerbic brother, Victor despite having comparable screen-time to his turn in This Must Be the Place, because of the poverty of the material available to him. Jack Reynor as David’s struggling actor son Josh has a glorified cameo in which his initial obnoxiousness is hard to overcome. Chris Pratt’s exhausted lawyer has the best lines and gives by far the funniest performance, but even that’s faint praise. The few of David’s children who are characterised; pretentious morbid philosopher Viggo (Adam Chanler-Berat), unstintingly cheerful busker Adam (Dave Patten), smooth gay lothario Channing (Matthew Daddario); are all caricatures, transparently there to service David’s arc.

Scott seems uninterested in proffering anything other than naive optimism. Despite his 80k debt David manages to find money to intervene positively in the lives of his children. His wise Polish father (Andrzej Blumenfeld) notes that David is four times slower than most delivery men, but is beloved wherever he goes. But what’s so loveable about David’s m.o. of being hopelessly unreliable then occasionally making a grand gesture? As Tom Walker pointed out to me, Vaughn makes his obligatory rapid-fire speech telling some home truths. But Scott avoids numerous knotty questions. Where are the parents who raised the 142? How do they feel?  Why do none of the 142 express hurt to David? And what about the other 391 – the clear majority – who have no interest in finding out the identity of the man behind the sperm donor pseudonym Starbuck?

Delivery Man is perfectly fine, it’s neither a hilarious comedy nor a touching drama, but is content to plod along efficiently somewhere in between; but that’s not a recommendation, more a lack of condemnation.

2.5/5

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January 24, 2013

Lincoln

Spielberg’s long-gestating biopic depicts Daniel Day-Lewis’ Honest Abe trying  to force thru the lame-duck House of Representatives a constitutional amendment  outlawing slavery.

Daniel-Day-Lewis-in-Lincoln-2012-Movie-Image-3-600x397

Lincoln insists the outgoing House pass it by the month’s end as these  unseated Democrats have nothing to lose, and because, thanks to facilitation by  Lincoln’s Republican Party elder Preston Blair (Hal Holbrook), the Confederacy  (represented by Jackie Earle Haley’s VP) are ready to negotiate an end to the  Civil War. Secretary of State Seward (David Strathairn) values such a peace  above Lincoln’s amendment but agrees to fund three political fixers (James  Spader, John Hawkes, Tim Blake Nelson) in their attempt to secure the necessary  Democrat votes, even as Secretary of War Stanton (Bruce McGill) bludgeons the  South with a vicious naval assault on Wilmington to hasten the end of the war.  Meanwhile Lincoln has to contend with his estranged son Robert (Joseph  Gordon-Levitt) and long-suffering wife Mary (Sally Field) as much as radical  abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones).

Spielberg’s Lincoln is an incessant raconteur so it’s fitting that Lincoln made me think of Groucho Marx’s  anecdote of the lousy film producer nobody could bring themselves to fire  because he so reminded them of Lincoln. Lincoln is awash with familiar faces; Abe  can’t send a telegram without falling over a Girls star, Lukas Haas and Dane DeHaan pop up  just to recite his Gettysburg Address to him. And a great dignity falls over  all, from those who signed up for trivial parts because it was a film about the  Great Liberator, to Steven Spielberg directing with reverent anonymity, to DP  Janusz Kaminski reining himself in to the occasional lens flare and a muted  lighting scheme. Day-Lewis’ affected gait and high-pitched voice attempts to  humanise the legend but inevitably and unfortunately recalls Sean Penn in This Must Be the Place.

Tony Kushner’s desperately unfocused script clamours for a Sorkin rewrite.  Despite establishing a ticking clock there is no sense of urgency until, with 4 days left to  the vote, Lincoln descends from Olympus to cajole Democrats. There are great  scenes: Lincoln explaining to his Cabinet with characteristic intricacy the  legal dubiousness of his Emancipation Proclamation, arguing with Stevens over  the necessity for compromise, and discoursing on Euclid and thus changing his  own mind about negotiating a peace. But, while the under-used fixers amuse, we  flail in uninteresting Congressional debates or Lincoln’s wonted quoting of  Shakespeare. JGL is wasted in a storyline which stunningly never addresses how  much affection Lincoln showers on his private secretary, Johnny. Johnny being  John Hay, who was Secretary of State to Presidents McKinley and Roosevelt. Such  was the valuable mentoring that Lincoln denied his own son…

And there’s Sally Field’s Mary  Todd Lincoln by way of Brothers &  Sisters… She nicely upbraids Stevens, but, her hysterical grief is so  histrionic in a scene with Abe, Day-Lewis’ gestures so theatrical, and  Spielberg’s shot-selection so disconcertingly low-angle, that you half-expect  the camera to edge back an inch and reveal a proscenium arch. Such theatricality  gives us Lincoln’s ridiculous final line, leaving Seward to stomp off for his  fatal engagement at Ford’s Theatre – “I suppose I should be going, but I would  rather stay”. Like every Spielberg flick this century this film misses a good  ending and needlessly keeps going and going, and even bafflingly resurrects  Lincoln to deliver the Second Inaugural. John  Adams is the gold standard that Lincoln had to equal to prove cinema could best TV for intelligent historical  drama of ideas. Lincoln falls  short…

This is a handsomely mounted tilt  at a worthy, important subject; assuming, as the Oscars do, that important  subjects rather than great scripts generate epochal films. To give Lincoln the  verdict, “People who like this sort of thing will find this the sort of thing  they like.”

2.5/5

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